Monday, February 22, 2010

Spiritual Disciplines: Just for Kids?

The following article first appeared on February 19, 2010 on sbcIMPACT!, a blog I regularly post and comment on.

A Spiritual Discipline for Everyone

Christians need to practice spiritual disciplines to develop personal holiness. A spiritual discipline is a specific practice either explicitly or implicitly stated in the Bible that is routinely observed with the specific intention of molding a Christian’s thoughts, attitudes, and actions to reflect the character of Christ. So I’m not referring to good things like the generic “loving our neighbor” or giving to a faith missionary coming through town. Those things are all well and good, but they’re not really disciplines. There’s no routine.

Some specific disciplines include prayer, fasting, meditation, Scripture reading, and Scripture memorization. One discipline that I had gotten out of practice in is Scripture memorization. A couple of weeks ago I memorized some verses from 2 Peter that our pastor had encouraged us to learn as part of the application of the message. So I did. Then I got a notion in my noggin to memorize more. I didn’t want to set myself up for failure, so I decided to memorize Titus. The book. More on that in a moment.

Silly Grown-up…

As a kid I recall going to Awana on Wednesday nights, and, among other things, I memorized Scripture. Unfortunately, my parents moved shortly after I began attending and the only thing I really remember well was the games and John 3:16 in the King James Version. Since I primarily use the NIV now, I’ve had to re-memorize that one, but I’ll never forget it as long as I live because of Awana.

Growing up in a Baptist church, more than one of my Sunday school teachers used cash and other incentives to encourage me to memorize verses every week. So I did. I didn’t realize that I had to put the money in the offering plate during the service, so the incentive really waned after the first week. But I kept up with it. VBS was an incentive in-and-of-itself because I could earn points towards a prize at the end of the week. I got my first VeggieTales movie out of that.

Even up to this point I never viewed memorization as a Spiritual discipline. Looking back now it is amazing how God has used those bits of Scripture to renew my mind and to guide my conscience through my school years. Once I got into the youth group the memory verses dried up. Every now and then we’d have a verse or two to memorize, but we normally weren’t quizzed or expected to repeat it the next Sunday. Perhaps memory verses were for kids, not teenagers, after all.

That idea was reinforced when I began attending the adult Sunday schools. Neither the young adults nor the seniors’ class, nor any the classes in between encouraged the practice. It was as though Scripture memorization was just for kids. Silly rabbit… you know the commercial.

Over time I knew the gist of enough Scripture passages from my Bible reading that I could usually find a verse if I was looking for it. Someone would say, “Where’s in the Bible does it say…” and I could usually pinpoint the book if not the chapter and verse. I just couldn’t quote it verbatim. And I felt that was good enough. Most people in the church couldn’t do much better than me either.

Eventually I regained an interest in memorizing Scripture. I remember my grandma recently showing me a document with Bible verses from A to Z. She told me that she had memorized all twenty-six verses when she was young and someone in the church gave her a pretty red dress for doing so. Maybe that did it. Or perhaps my guilt caught up with me. Or maybe something my pastor said rattled around in my head. Or I just picked it up from my own time in the Word. Whatever it was, God was behind it, and I had a new desire to memorize Scripture.

I’ve heard of people who’ve memorized large portions of Scripture—chapters, sections, and books—so I decided to look into it. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I didn’t want to attempt to memorize Psalms, Isaiah, or the book of Romans. So I looked at some of the shorter books of the Bible: 2nd John, 3rd John, Jude, Obadiah… but I didn’t want to just memorize a book of the Bible just to say that I did it. I’d like to say that I prayed about it, but I don’t remember doing that. Perhaps that will be my next post.

Though I did think about it with sanctified thoughts ;-).

So I decided upon the book of Titus. For one, it was short. But secondly, as a new seminary student and missionary hopeful, I chose Titus because it was one of the last letters from the Apostle Paul giving instructions to one of his progenies, a missionary he left in Crete. There’s a connection I feel with Titus based on our mutual calling to Christian service. I know memorizing this book will give me a much better perspective on serving God and living the Christian life.

I haven’t quite finished memorizing all of chapter one, but I have already begun to appreciate my pastor a lot more, and the qualifications for elder/overseer have greatly challenged me to live up to those standards as well. The pastoral role is so important in the local church because they are entrusted with God’s work (v7) and must protect the flock from false teachers and false doctrine.

Is it a Discipline?

Even though this has been a beneficial experience for me, is it right to think that all Christians should be actively memorizing Scripture? Is Scripture memorization really a spiritual discipline? How you answer this question has big implications for your life. If it is not a spiritual discipline, then it really is just for kids. It’s good to help kids learn the gospel or to remember to obey their parents, but once they get older, if they’re practicing other real disciplines, they will gain a lot through osmosis and will benefit much more from reading their Bibles than from memorizing verses (probably out of context).

Yet there is ample biblical evidence to support Scripture memorization as a spiritual discipline of the Christian life. For instance:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (6) And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (7) You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (8) You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (9) You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:5-9, ESV

Though this passage doesn’t specifically say to memorize Scripture, but it certainly is implied, especially from the phrase “And these words… shall be on your heart.” Just think about the role and impact the Word of God was to have on the lives of the Israelites. We really should live and find our sustenance not just from bread alone, but from “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

Scripture memorization is an important spiritual discipline because it fosters humility. When we approach the Word of God with plans to memorize it, we have to humble ourselves and admit to God that we don’t have it all together. We admit that we are sinful and we forget His Word. We admit our dependence on God for our very being, committing to live our lives founded in what God has said, not on what we pretend.

I look forward to learning more from the book of Titus, and repeating “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ…” eight million times ingrains the text in my mind. I don’t want to let up on my desire to memorize Titus, and I don’t want to stop there. This is just one spiritual discipline, and I have so much to improve upon in each one, but I am encouraged. As I continue to hide God’s Word in my heart, I’m being conformed more and more into the image of His Son. Scripture memorization is just for kids—the children of God.

Points to Ponder:

What is the last verse or portion of Scripture you’ve memorized? How has it impacted your Spiritual walk?

Do you agree that Scripture memorization is an important spiritual discipline for developing personal holiness? How long has it been since you last memorized a verse portion of Scripture

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